Archive for June 1st, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend —  Three days off to relax!
At church, Father Joe said his last 1200pm Mass for us.  He has finished his masters degree in Berkeley and is heading back to Malaysia.  Hil and I will miss him.  His sermons were always about Love.  Love for God and love for each other.  His final sermon was about fear of change and the unknown.  We were both struck by how this was an intensely personal statement about himself couched in a message of reassurance for the rest of us.
James went to mass with us.  It was his first time in a couple of years.
Saturday, I went to the movies with James.  We went to see “The Prince of Persia“.  It was a summer action movie about a poor child who is adopted by a King and who then goes forwards and then back thru time to save the kingdom.  Very entertaining.  I look forward to it coming out in DVD so I can see it again.
Yesterday, 30 May 2010, I finished reading “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance“, by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. (2002).  I had seen the book in the used bookstore several times, but never picked it up because my past experience is these books always end up being self-serving autobiographies.  Then, about six weeks ago, I saw the book on a list of the 100 greatest business books ever written.  This piqued my curiosity and I decided to pick it up the next time I saw it.  I ended up looking for it several times (and places) before I finally found it.  Anyway, I found it this week and dove in.
I have to admit I was both correct – it is self-serving – and I don’t care because it is both very well written and offered me some thoughtful moments.  I must admit any book which can make me consider a point vis-a-vis conditions within SSA, is a book I will review positively.  I will offer a few quotes:
“Successful institutions almost always develop strong cultures that reinforce those elements that make the institution great.  They reflect the environment from which they emerged.  When that environment shifts, it is very hard for the culture to change.  In fact, it becomes an enormous impediment to the institution’s ability to adapt.”
“The truth is that no large enterprise can work without bureaucracy.  Bureaucrats, or staff people, provide coordination among disparate line organizations;  establish and enforce corporate-wide strategies that allow the enterprise to avoid duplication, confusion, and conflict;  and provide highly specialized skills that cannot be duplicated because of cost or simply the shortage of available resources.”
“I’ve never been certain that I can abstract from my experiences a handful of lessons that others can apply to their own situations.”
“A successful, focused enterprise is one that has developed a deep understanding of its customers’  needs, its competitive environment, and its economic realities.”
“Execution —  getting the task done, making it happen — is the most unappreciated skill of an effective business leader.”
“Great institutions are not managed;  they are led.  They are not administered;  they are driven to ever-increasing levels of accomplishment by individuals who are passionate about winning.”
“Most of all, personal leadership is about passion.”
“Thus, what every CEO has to do is decide what is going to be uniquely local (decentralized) and what is going to be common in his or her enterprise.”
“Great institutions balance common shared activities with highly localized, unique activities.”
Ok.  Having said how good the writing was and having listed a few quotes, what did I find “wrong” with the work?  To start off with there is an assumption that value in big organizations comes from systems and procedures.  Gerstner downplays this assumption by repeatedly discussing all of the great individuals he worked with.  But in the end, it is the big customer which must implement the technology (internet) before the value can reach the individual customer.  I’m not sure I agree with this.  Anybody can buy a shoe at a store – on-line or in bricks and mortar.  We don’t need the internet for that.  Knowledge, though, that is different.  The more widely we can make knowledge (facts and opinions, but not lies) accessible, the greater all societies will be.  It is the PC and the internet which are driving this phenomena, not the ability to buy shoes or jeans.  I’m not dismissing the value of on-line shopping for businesses or individuals, I’m just trying to establish where I place real value.
Of course, the process of posting to the internet does not differentiate between facts, opinions and lies – but that is another discussion.  The fact that buying and selling shoes and jeans is what ultimately pays to keep the internet up and running is also something for another day.
Ultimately, the most interesting part of the book is the infrequent mentioning of research and implementation.  Where a product cannot be driven to market in a timely manner, it needs to be leveraged by “selling” the use to others who will drive the product to market.  Essentially, this and the effort to make IBM a system integrator and service supplier are the key ideas for any company based on true intelligence / knowledge.  “We know how things work together.  We make some (most) of the parts (especially the big, expensive parts,) and what we don’t make we can help you buy and put together.  You pay some for what we make, but you pay most for what we know.”  [That is me, not Mr. Gerstner being quoted.]
I have to agree, this is a true growth industry and one that a large multinational corporation can make a lot of money from.
Today I went to REI and (finally) got myself a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (KSO).  They are SOOOOOO cool!!!  I wore them home from the store and they are extremely comfortable.  The biggest downside is the price:  $85.  So, this is probably the only pair I’ll ever own.  But in the meantime, they are COOL!  Black and gray with cammo bottoms.
I will continue my current test pair, but I can’t wait to start logging some miles in the KSO’s.
Incidentally, last night I ran 240 minutes – about 7ish miles.  My feet feel good and my Achilles are a little tender but not bad.  Otherwise, I feel great!  And there was virtually no wear on the Delta Water Socks (the test pair).
Also today, I picked up and watched “Paper Chase“.  It’s a movie about a first year law student at Harvard.  I first saw it when I was in my 20s and I’ve wanted to get it for ages.  I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it.  Review:  Even after all these years, it’s still EXCELLENT!!  John Houseman rocks as Professor Kingsfield.  He got an Oscar for his performance.

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